In this latest Two Oceans Marathon race readiness blog we talk race day nutrition.
Below is the podcast of this blog feel free to take a listen or dive into the in-depth read below.
For me personally the most critical part of race day is my pre-race meal.
A lot of athletes tend to not eat before a big race, but it is the most crucial meal of the day.
What you take in on the morning of race day is going to play a very important role in fuelling you during your race. I suggest eating a meal that will provide you stability and give you the energy requirements that you need during the event.
THE PRE-RACE MEAL
In looking for the most appropriate pre-race meal the food firstly needs to be something that you are used to and have eaten previously. Do not try anything new on race day. Generally, I advocate a slightly higher carbohydrate meal, unless you are a high fat low carb eater (banter). Depending on the kind of diet that you follow you need to try and keep it simple and clean. The best time to eat would be at least a minimum of two hours before the event start so that you have enough time to allow the food to digest and the stomach to settle.
Depending on your weight, a meal between 200-400 calories (depending on weight and time consumed) should be more than sufficient from an energy perspective at that time of the morning. If you are too close to the start time, then reduce the calorie intake accordingly to ensure that the digestive system maintains a level of comfort in the early part of the race.
DO NOT skip your pre-race meal it is the most important meal of the day. I often get asked what good meal examples would be as a pre-race meal and this is how I would go about planning it.
- Do not eat what doesn’t agree with you and what has not been tested previously.
- Start with the carbohydrate content and keep it simple and easily digestible.
- Ensure the carbohydrate selected doesn’t spike your blood sugar but provides some form of stability.
- Keep the fibre as low as possible
- Protein can assist in delaying onset of muscle fatigue in long endurance events and I would suggest adding in a little to your pre-race meal.
- Fat can also be added but I would opt for the type of fat that provides more easily accessible energy, and, in this case, medium chain triglyceride’s are best.
Examples of a pre-race meals could be a gluten free rolled oats, nut butter and some banana or berries. You could eat some banana on low fibre bread or toast, sweet potato, rice or quinoa pudding or oatmeal, spelt or sorghum pancakes. Eggs on toast with a little avocado is also fine, it really depends on the kind of person you are, what kind of diet you follow and what you are used to consuming pre-exercise If following a low carb lifestyle, you can opt for a higher fat meal (the larger portion being medium chain fats) however, I would still advocate a stability carbohydrate before and keep the protein intake small.
Remember, what you eat before the race is going to help fuel you during the race and you need to start your ultra-distance event with topped-up fuel tanks.
THE CAFFEINE BENEFIT
Caffeine is a stimulant and it is beneficial in endurance sport. It has been shown to aid performance when consumed correctly. Caffeine provides mental focus and in any endurance sport this plays a crucial role in sports performance. It is recommended to consume 1-3mg/kg of bodyweight around 2-4hrs before an event. Coffee is not a good measure of caffeine unless it’s a coffee like TrueStart Coffee where you know exactly how much caffeine there is per a serving. Caffeine intake must be measured. It should also have been tried and tested in training to understand how the body responds.
When heading off to the event, make sure you do hydrate sufficiently, but do not over-hydrate because at that time of the morning it’s very cool and the last thing you want to do when the event starts is have that heavy stomach feeling and overloaded bladder forcing you to run to the toilet.
Race day fuelling needs to be properly planned and you should have practised this in your training. If you haven’t, you have completely fallen short of preparing properly for the event because nutrition is a make or break.
You cannot just rely with the nutrition that’s on the course if you haven’t tried and tested it. The best way to fuel in an endurance event, specifically a Two Oceans Ultra Marathon is to make sure you separate your hydration and your energy requirements. Think about hydration in terms of what’s going to keep the body hydrated not about energy. Hydration has been spoken about extensively in the past and if you are not sure you can read my blog Simply Hydrate to get a more in-depth understanding.
As for energy requirements you need to know how much you’re going to be consuming in the form of grams of carbohydrates per an hour during the event to give you the optimal fuel to perform. A large portion of your energy requirements will come from your internal fuel tanks being glycogen and fat, however by taking in the appropriate volume and type of fuel you can assist glycogen sparing and keep your primary fuel tanks lasting longer. To get an understanding of the internal fuel tanks and usage check out my video explanation Get In the Zone.
Most athletes will consume their energy in the form of carbohydrates and you should have by now practised the volume intake of carbohydrates you require per an hour to keep you sustained through the event. Runners have a more sensitive digestive system due to it being a higher impact sport than cycling so I do advocate smaller feeds, frequently, as opposed to bigger feeds spaced further apart. The reason for this is twofold firstly the digestive system can cope better with smaller amounts of food at a time and more easily utilise and absorb it as opposed to dealing with a very large amount of fuel at once. Secondly it provides more energy balance. I call this the ‘drip feeding’ method, and I find it works very well for most athletes.
Fuelling every 20-30 minutes as opposed to every 45 minutes to an hour would be a lot easier on the digestive system and it would allow you to balance that energy system out a lot better. In other words, clock feeding and making sure you do take something every 20-30 minutes.
Some runners can get away with as little as 20-30g of carbohydrates per an hour and some need to take a lot more, but anywhere between the 20g-60g mark would be fine based on individual requirements. Remember to stick to what you have done during training. It is not about the amount of carbohydrates that you’re taking in, it is about what your body is capable of absorbing and utilising. Anybody can consume a large amount of fuel, but it does not mean that the body is going to utilise and absorb it and this can lead to severe digestive issues. If you take in too many carbs overdoing it with the sugar and glucose, it can lead to muscle cramping mainly due to poor fluid absorption. It can also lead to dizziness and nausea and it’s the last place you want to be during a race. My advice is to take in the least amount of fuel to achieve the greatest possible result.
Remember this is an ultra-distance event, there is no ways that you will fuel on only your glycogen stores. Your glycogen stores in an event like that will mostly be depleted, and a high percentage of the fat fuel tank will be used for fuelling the event as it is more pace controlled and you don’t need to take in an excessive amount of glucose at any one time and spike your insulin levels.
Caffeine during the Race
Caffeine during the race can play a benefit as well. Caffeine does metabolize fully over a period of around 60minutes, so my advice is to have measured doses throughout the event once you do start consuming. I recommend at least once an hour some athletes consume every 30 minutes, but this is something that needs to be tried and tested in training to see what the optimal dose is for you during exercise.
Protein during the Race
If you’re going into an ultra-distance event and it’s going to be a lot longer than 4-5 hours, you should incorporate protein consumption on route, just to help act as a buffer and assist in delaying the onset of muscle fatigue. It also helps satiate you, in other words, it gets rid of the hunger pains and it does break up that intake of glucose.
Please make sure that you are prepared from a race nutrition perspective. If you’re not prepared, you better start thinking about it very soon and make sure you’ve got some sort of plan for the big day. On the day, stick to your plan, don’t deviate and you will get to the finish line feeling a lot happier and a lot more comfortable. I wish you all the best of luck, may you have a great race.
All the best
Mark Wolff is an endurance, sports nutrition and physiology expert with over 20 years experience. An endurance multisport athlete with a triathlon, mountain biking and weight lifting background, he works extensively with professional and amateur athletes in a variety of sports disciplines as well as those just wanting to change their lifestyles. He firmly believes that a person can only reach their full potential when their health and nutrition is down packed. Mark’s focus on nutrition and physiology is not just on training and racing, but he places major emphasis on recovery, immune system health, emotional stability, stress management and performance. Mark is co-founder of 32Gi, a sports nutrition company, focused mainly on health and endurance nutrition. He is a certified sports nutrition expert as well as a marathon, track, triathlon and cycling coach. He spends most of his time guiding athletes with a very holistic approach to blending training and nutrition for performance and health